Sunday, 18 November 2012

How I got to know about Ponty Chaddha

A piece of advice for foreign minister Salman Khursheed – he should not take offence if a foreign traveller or tourist to India makes an unsavoury comment about our country.

Khursheed should not be like his predecessor S.M. Krishna who used to get offended if any foreigner made a critical comment, even if in lighter vein, about India.

Exactly a year back, BBC presenter Jeremy Clarkson in a travel show named Top Gear had travelled to a slum in India in a car that had a toilet seat in the boot.

Clarkson had said in the programme that toilet in cars in India were a necessity as westerners here often suffered from diarrhoea due to hot and spicy Indian food.

Krishna was peeved with Clarkson and his comment. He had asked the Indian high commissioner in London to talk to the producers of Top Gear.

But two modern day Ibn Batutas recently discovered that Indian food do upset stomachs, at wrong time and place.

Perdu Ornab and Perdu Mark, two natives of New Caledonia, a small island in south-west Pacific Ocean are at present hopscotching the world in a small two-seater plane.

They are flying from east to west and reached Kolkata from Dhaka a month back.

After spending a couple of days in Kolkata, the Perdus took off from Kolkata in the noon of November 7 for New Delhi. The distance between Kolkata and New Delhi is 1500 km. The weather conditions were fine and flying smooth.

When the plane was gliding over the great plains of Uttar Pradesh, Perdu Mark felt a slight rumbling in his stomach.

He did not give a second thought to the rumbling and concentrated on navigating the plane.

But he soon realised that the rumbling was increasing. He was alarmed. He felt needed to use a toilet urgently. But then a two-seater plane has nothing expect two seats in the cockpit.

Perdu Mark’s condition aggravated. He felt he was losing control over his bowels. His clutched his swelling stomach in agony. He realised stomach would burst its seams if he did not go to a toilet within few minutes. He groaned as he checked the meters of the plane which showed that he was flying at a speed of 200 km per hour, at a height of 20,000 feet.

Perdu Orsab contact air traffic control office (ATC) in Kolkata and apprised it about his brother’s pathetic condition.

The ATC asked for their location. The Perdus checked the meters and the map and found that they were nearing Kanpur (my home).

The ATC gave the two travellers a useless piece of information. The ATC official said, ‘You can land in Kanpur. But the aerodrome in Kanpur is managed and controlled the Indian Air Force. You have to take permission from foreign and defence ministries of India for landing there. But sensing your position, we think that’s not possible for you now.’

Perdu Mark rubbed his belly for some relief while his brother barked at the ATC official, ‘Thanks for your suggestion. So what do we do now?’

‘Try Amausi airport in Lucknow. You can make an unscheduled landing at a civil airport in case of a medical emergency,’ said the ATC official.

Without wasting any time in thanking ATC, Kolkata, Orsab Perdu contacted the ATC, Lucknow and told them that he wanted to make an emergency landing due to an emergency medical condition.   

Indians believe in ‘Atithhi Devo Bhava.’ A foreigner is most welcome; an ailing foreigner is all the more welcome. ATC, Lucknow gave the Perdus a green signal. Perdu Orsab’s last message to ATC, Lucknow was: ‘Please keep the toilets unoccupied and their doors open.’

The plane had not even come to a halt when Perdu Mark jumped out and sprinted.

I came to know about the plight of the Perdus from a Bangla newspaper. The report in the newspaper was rightly headlined ‘akash-e veg’ (pressure in the air). I can’t read Bangla and my father had read the report to me.

The Perdus have most probably left India. I don’t know if they will again visit India. My sympathies are with them.

Nowadays, whenever I see a plane or helicopter hovering over me directly, I move indoors. You can’t be sure.

Bengalis are argumentative by nature. The officials at ATC, Kolkata are still debating what food led to Perdo Mark’s ‘medical condition.’ One is saying the Perdus took off after eating jhaal moori; another is saying they had egg-roll.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Gandhis and the bungalows of Lutyen’s Delhi

The headline of a story in Hindustan Times last Friday read ‘Rahul leads from a new address.’

The story said that Rahul Gandhi to expand his role in the Congress Party had started working actively from a new office.

The address of the new office, mentioned in the story was 15, Gurdwara Rakabgung Road, New Delhi.

Reading the story I realised Rahul’s new office is in one of those beautiful bungalows that dot Lutyen’s Delhi. 

Most of the bungalows in Lutyen’s Delhi look similar – single-storied, white and cubic in shape, with green lawns rolling out on all sides.

The bungalows, it seems, having found a comfortable place in the midst of acres of green, are squatting comfortably and brooding forever.

The bungalows look unoccupied and lifeless from the road. You do not see anybody and any activity beyond the boundary walls, except a couple of armed men in khakis at the gate.
Reading the story in Hindustan Times, several questions came to my mind.

Rahul Gandhi as a Member of Parliament is entitled to an accommodation in Delhi. He has been allotted one – 12, Tughlaq Road – a bungalow in Lutyen’s Delhi. It also doubles up as his office.

Why does he need another bungalow and another office?

Who is the allottee of 15, Gurdwara Rakabgunj Road? Rahul or somebody else?

If the bungalow has been allotted to Rahul, then why and in what capacity?
Is it ethical if the bungalow has been allotted to somebody else and Rahul has set up his office in it? Has he usurped the bungalow?

Can Rahul have as many bungalows in Delhi as he likes?

Can Members of Parliament of other parties like L.K. Advani or Sharad Pawar or Mulayam Singh Yadav have more than one bungalow in Delhi?

Who is the owner of 15, Gurdwara Rakabgunj Road – the central government or the Delhi government? Or is it privately owned? 

In any case, what’s the rent of the bungalow? Has the rent been subsidised or is it being charged at the market or commercial rate? Who is paying the rent?

The Hindustan Times story said that Rahul Gandhi was using 15, Gurdwara Rakabgunj Road as a war room – to make strategies for general elections in 2014 and also assembly elections to be held in many states in 2013 and 2014.

According to the story, only top leaders of the Congress Party like Sonia Gandhi, Ahmed Patel, Digvijaya Singh, Janardan Dwivedi, Oscar Fernandes, Motilal Vora and Jairam Ramesh have an access to the bungalow. Only matters related to the Congress Party are discussed at 15, Gurdwara Rakabgunj Road – issues related to governance are not taken up.

Reading the story, another question flashed in my mind – where does Priyanka Gandhi lives in Delhi?

We all know that Sonia Gandhi lives in 10, Janpath and Rahul 12, Tughlaq Road.

Has Priyanka Gandhi also been provided a government bungalow? I was expecting the answer to be yes. The government can always cite security reasons for providing her a bungalow. I also thought that may be Priyanka Gandhi and Robert Vadra have been provided separate bungalows for security reasons. 

I tried finding the answers in google and wikipedia. While trying the two sites, I realised that was better than the two websites in matters related to the Gandhi family and the Congress Party. There is no such site at present. I just made it.

Rasheed Kidwai is a senior journalist and can be considered an encyclopedia on the Congress Party and its leaders. He has written two books – biography of Sonia Gandhi and history of the Congress Party.    

I was happy to see Mr. Kidwai ‘available’ on gmail chat.

I messaged him, ‘Where does Priyanka Gandhi live?’

Prompt came the reply, ‘34, Lodhi Road.’

He messaged me again after a few seconds, ‘Oops, sorry. It’s 35, Lodhi Road.’

‘Provided by government?’


I was not surprised.

‘Why? She is not holding any constitutional post.’

‘For security reasons.’

As expected.

‘Robert Vadra also lives there? Or has he been allotted a separate bungalow?’

‘Vadra also lives in 35, Lodhi Road. But Priyanka has an office in a bungalow on Pundit Pant Marg. That bungalow has been allotted to captain Satish Sharma.’

While exchanging messages with Mr Kidwai, I recalled a conversation I had with him some years back.
He had said, ‘Apart from their homes and offices, the Gandhis directly or indirectly are in possession of several bungalows in Lutyen’s Delhi. They head several trusts and memorials that they have set up in the names of Jawahar Lal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. The offices of most of the trusts or memorials are in the bungalows of Lutyen’s Delhi.’
Mr. Kidwai also provided an interesting piece of information. He said there were many trusts and memorials in New Delhi dedicated to Jawahar Lal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajeev Gandhi. But Sanjay Gandhi Trust has been reduced to one room in 24, Akbar Road, the headquarters of the Congress Party.
In days to come, I will not be surprised if I read a headline – Rahul to strengthen Youth Congress from a new address or Priyanka to manage Rae Bereli elections from a new office.